Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Clicker Training

Clicker training with my donkeys has opened a whole new world full of possibilites.
It's a teaching method based on positive reinforcement .. teaching tiny bits and making sure that the animal always feels supported and successful.  This is ensured by rewarding even the smallest try, the teeniest attempt by the animal (donkey in this case) towards doing the very thing you are asking it to do.  It might be that the animal is just "thinking" about doing it, shifting it's weight, leaning forward ... but you will be encouraging all these positive attempts and reinforcing them so that the (donkey) gets the idea that ... "hey, I must be on the right track!"  Donkey gains confidence and so does the handler.

Okay, I'll be more specific. Take Ringo for example.  When he arrived in June 2007, I could not lift a hoof for cleaning - he would kick the hoof pick clear across the paddock. So ... clicker train him to let me clean his hooves.  Clearly, he was feeling scared, nervous, uncertain with having to stand on three legs. 

Donkeys, being equines, are ready to run at the first sign of trouble (well maybe donkeys don't run quite so quickly as horses do, but it's still in their nature to do so!)  So if you have a hoof in your hand, they are kind of immobilized and it feels weird to them to stand there with you holding onto their foot.

Place your hand on their flank and ask "can I touch you there?"  Yes?  "Click!" (either with your tongue or else with a small plastic clicker)  and offer the donkey a small food reward, held well away from your body in your outstretched hand.

Next, place your hand on their leg ... if the animal says it's okay (by standing still, not swishing it's tail or other signs of annoyance) click and reward them, then your hand moves down their leg, etc. etc.  This may take days or it may take minutes ... it depends on you, your animal, your ability to communicate and make the animal understand what it is you are asking, your confidence ... so many things!

I'm not going to explain HOW clicker training works - I'm a student, not an expert and it's a technique based on theory,  ... but I will say IT WORKS!  And I will refer you to experts and books and clinics later. 
You need time, dedication, perserverance, thoughfullness and an ability to have fun.

But I'll end this post by saying that in the nine years that I have lived with donkeys, I have been advised to whack them, bop them on the nose, yell, throw a fit, bite them back, growl ... all manner of "training" ideas that have frankly left me bewildered. Clicker training employs none of the above.  It's a life saver!

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